Tuesday, February 24, 2015

#1,653. Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

Directed By: Mervyn LeRoy

Starring: Warren William, Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon

Tag line: "The Biggest Show On Earth!"

Trivia: One of the neon-outlined violins used in the Shadow Waltz number is on display in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, DC

Many rank 42nd Street as Busby Berkeley’s best musical, but my personal favorite is Gold Diggers of 1933. With its intricate dance routines and a handful of truly funny moments, Gold Diggers of 1933 is fun with a capital “F”.

When his latest show is shut down by the creditors, Broadway director Barney Hopkins (Ned Sparks) heads back to the drawing board, and dreams up a musical he's convinced will run for years. 

Of course, he'll need money to produce it. Enter songwriter Brad Roberts (Dick Powell), who, along with writing the show’s music, also coughs up the needed cash, on the condition that his girlfriend Polly Parker (Ruby Keeler) play the lead. Hopkins agrees, and also casts Polly’s roommates Carol (Joan Blondell) and Trixie (Aline MacMahon). 

Along with writing, Brad is a talented singer, and is courted by Hopkins to play one of the show's leads, but Brad refuses to avoid drawing the ire of his family. Hopkins eventually discovers that Brad's real name is Robert Bradford, of the Boston Bradfords, a wealthy family that would never approve of him being mixed up in show business. In fact, when Brad's older brother Lawrence (Warren William) gets wind of his involvement in Hopkins’ latest venture, he travels to New York with Fanuel Peabody (Guy Kibbee), the Bradford family lawyer, to convince his younger sibling to drop out. 

In addition, Lawrence and Peabody plan to offer Polly a large sum of money to break things off with Brad. But when they mistake Carol for Polly, it leads to a series of mishaps that will ultimately teach both men a thing or two about Broadway girls!

Gold Diggers of 1933 starts off strong, with a rousing rendition of “We’re in the Money” performed by Fay Fortune (Ginger Rogers), who even sings a verse in Pig Latin. It’s an elaborate production number, but is nowhere near as extravagant as “Pettin’ in the Park”, which features everything from policemen on roller skates to pretty girls walking in the rain. In the final act, Gold Diggers of 1933, treats us to “The Shadow Waltz” (with dozens of violins that glow in the dark), as well as “Remember My Forgotten Man”, a melancholy ditty set against the backdrop of the Great Depression. As good as the rest of the tunes are, “Remember My Forgotten Man” is hands down the movie’s most poignant sequence. 

Its musical numbers aside, Gold Diggers of 1933 is also a very funny movie. Believing Carol is Polly, Lawrence Bradford wines and dines her, hoping to make her fall in love with him so that she’ll leave Brad alone. Aided by Trixie, who sets to work seducing the lawyer Fanuel Peabody (she gives him the nickname “Fanny”), Carol goes on pretending that she’s Polly, and forces Lawrence to spend big bucks on her (a sequence set in the girl’s apartment, where they talk Lawrence and Peabody into buying them expensive new hats, is pretty damn hilarious). It isn’t long before the two stuffed shirts fall for the girls’ charms, and watching them get raked over the coals by these conniving ladies is a definite highpoint of what I believe is Busby Berkeley’s shining cinematic accomplishment. 

Unlike most musicals of this era, Gold Diggers of 1933 is just as entertaining without the music as with it.

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